Thousands of farmers in Northern Ireland are having their single farm payments withheld, because they have inadvertently claimed entitlement on the same field as their landlords.

The problem has arisen because of Northern Ireland’s hybrid system of single farm payment, which includes a land element as well as a historic element.

This has encouraged landowners to submit claims.

But, because of the conacre system of short-term rents, many active producers have also claimed on that land, without conferring with their landowners.

The Ulster Farmers’ Union says these farmers are facing the threat of very significant financial penalties because of these errors.

“Small farmers are often worst affected because a duplicate field query on their farm can constitute a large percentage of their overall claim and lead to a much larger penalty,” said UFU president Campbell Tweed.

“It is unacceptable this could happen when there was no intention to do anything wrong.”

The UFU has requested a meeting with the commission in Brussels to try and resolve the problem.

“EU law does not allow one party or another to withdraw their claim and avoid a penalty,” said UFU policy director Wesley Aston.

“We want that changed as these are genuine mistakes.”

Mr Aston also urged affected landlords and farmers to try to negotiate a provisional agreement between themselves, in case Brussels has a change of heart.